Transporting Your Big Game Harvest: The Ultimate Guide for Hunters

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Hey there, fellow hunters! There’s nothing quite like that feeling of success when you finally take down your trophy buck or bull after days of tracking. But the work doesn’t stop after you make the harvest; properly transporting your big game is critical.

As an avid hunter myself, I’ve learned a ton over the years about the best practices for transporting meat and trophies. From picking the right transportation method to following strict food safety guidelines, there are a lot of factors to consider. Don’t worry. I’m here to walk you through everything you need to know to get your prized harvest home safely and legally.

An Exhilarating Feeling Followed by More Work

Let me set the scene. You wake up before the crack of dawn, get all your gear ready, and head out to your favorite hunting spot. The morning chill greets you as you quietly walk to your treestand or ground blind. You wait patiently, scanning the area, until suddenly you spot it—the trophy buck you’ve been tracking all season. Your heart pounds as you line up the perfect shot. Bang! Your shot hits the vital area, and your buck goes down. Success!

You feel a huge rush of excitement and adrenaline after making a great harvest. But don’t start celebrating just yet; the real work is just beginning. Now it’s time to start thinking about how you’ll get this big boy out of the woods and safely home.

Properly handling, packing, and transporting your harvested animal is critical for both food safety and obeying transportation laws. Taking the necessary steps will ensure your prized venison arrives home in perfect condition, and you avoid any fines or penalties.

In this ultimate guide, I’ll share everything I’ve learned over the years about transporting big game meat and trophies after a successful hunt.

Quick Tips Before Transport

  • Field dress deer as soon as possible to cool carcasses and prevent spoilage.
  • Follow all state/federal transportation and tagging regulations.
  • Use ice and refrigeration to keep meat cool at <40°F during transport.
  • Handle meat and trophies carefully to avoid damage.
  • Research customs regulations if transporting across borders.

Field Dressing Essentials

The first step after the harvest is field dressing the animal. This involves removing the entrails and internal organs shortly after killing the animal. Proper field dressing cools down the body cavity, removes blood, bodily fluids, and waste material, and prevents bacteria from growing on the meat.

Here are some field dressing tips to ensure you safely preserve the carcass:

  • Act quickly – you want to field dress the animal as soon as you can after harvesting, within 30 minutes if possible. The earlier you can clean out the entrails, the lower the chance of bacteria growth on the meat. Be ready with your knives and equipment.
  • Place deer correctly – position the deer on its back with its head pointed downhill. Gravity will help drain blood and bodily fluids from the cavity.
  • Cut around the anus – make an incision around the animal’s anus, being careful not to cut into the intestine. Tie a string below the incision to prevent feces from contacting the meat.
  • Split the pelvic bone – using a hunting knife, cut along the midline of the pelvic bone up towards the rib cage. This allows access to the lower organs.
  • Remove entrails – reach into the body cavity and sever the windpipe, gullet, and connecting tissue around organs. Remove all internal organs, being careful not to rupture the intestines or bladder.
  • Drain blood and fluids – after removing the organs, drain any remaining blood and bodily fluids from the cavity. You can place absorptive material inside to soak up moisture.
  • Remove glands – cut away and discard any glands, especially the head, throat, and fat glands. These glands can impart strong odors to the meat.
  • Tag/document harvest – be sure to properly tag and document the harvest as soon as possible according to state or federal regulations.

Proper field dressing is a crucial first step to cooling the body and preventing deterioration or spoilage of the meat. It also removes materials that can impart odors and affect taste. Now, let’s move on to reviewing the all-important transportation regulations.

Transporting Your Big Game Harvest: The Ultimate Guide for Hunters

Researching Transportation Regulations

Before you load up your truck with hundreds of pounds of meat and antlers, be sure you understand the relevant state, federal, and international transportation regulations. Transporting harvested games across state lines or country borders without proper documentation can result in hefty fines.

Here are some tips for researching regulations:

  • Check your state’s hunting regulations handbook for transportation guidelines. Many states prohibit moving certain animal parts without a permit.
  • Be aware of federal regulations from agencies like the USDA, Fish & Wildlife Service, and U.S. Customs on transporting meat or trophy items.
  • If transporting across state lines, research regulations in the destination state. There may be special permits or inspections required.
  • For airline travel, check TSA and airline policies on transporting hunting trophies as checked baggage. There are often size and weight restrictions.
  • If traveling internationally, research importation laws for agricultural products to avoid penalties. Get proper export paperwork from the hunting country.
  • Work with an experienced taxidermist to handle importing and exporting trophies across borders if needed. They can ensure proper protocols are followed.
  • Keep copies of all licenses, permit numbers, and other documentation with you during transport. Never assume regulations – always verify first!

Choosing the Right Transportation Method

Once you’ve field-dressed your harvest and understood the regulations, next comes the all-important task of safely transporting it to its final destination. You’ll want to choose a transportation method that preserves freshness and follows proper food safety protocols.

Here are some popular options hunters use to move meat and trophies:

Personal Vehicle

For shorter distances, transporting the harvest in your own truck or SUV is convenient and cost-effective. Here are some tips:

  • Use a high-quality cooler filled with ice to keep meat cold during transport. Ice should surround all meat to maintain <40°F. Add more ice if traveling long distances.
  • Bring a meat thermometer to monitor temperatures. Meat should arrive at the destination within 2 hours if using ice.
  • Place trophies carefully in the vehicle to avoid damage during transport. Wrap antlers in moving blankets or foam.
  • Keep meat and trophies away from passengers to avoid cross-contamination. Designate a sanitized area of the vehicle just for animal items.
  • Bring bags for waste like bones or scraps. Don’t discard remains randomly; double bag and dispose of them properly.

Refrigerated Truck/Trailer

For large quantities or long distances, a refrigerated truck is ideal. The cooled trailer will keep meat fresh over multi-day transport:

  • Ensure the refrigerated trailer can consistently maintain <40°F temperatures throughout the trip.
  • Load deer quarters or other large portions onto shelves, leaving space for air circulation. Do not overstuff.
  • Place trophies like antlers or capes in a separate, non-refrigerated section of the trailer.
  • Monitor temperatures with a thermometer and adjust refrigerator settings if needed. Add bagged ice if temperatures start increasing.

Shipping Services

Rather than transporting the harvest yourself, specialized shipping companies can handle the transportation logistics:

  • Look for companies experienced in shipping wild game meat and trophies. They are familiar with regulations.
  • Pack meat and trophies securely, following their instructions, so items aren’t damaged during transit.
  • Provide all relevant permits, paperwork, and shipment details upfront for smooth customs clearance.
  • Opt for overnight shipping if possible to minimize transit time and preserve freshness.

No matter how you choose to transport your harvest, the priorities are keeping the meat chilled at a safe temperature and preventing any damage to valuable trophies like antlers and mounts. Taking the proper precautions will ensure your hard-earned harvest arrives safely at the final stop!

deer mount

Protecting Your Prized Trophies

For many hunters, preserving those big antlers or hides is a top priority after a successful hunt. Here are my tips for keeping your treasured trophies in flawless shape during transport:

Antlers

  • Use foam, cardboard, or other padding to separate each antler so they don’t knock together
  • Wrap or cover each antler base to avoid breakage
  • For full mounts, detach the antlers from the skull plate before transport
  • Place antlers in a hard case or crate to prevent shifting or bumps

Hides

  • Flesh and salt the hide thoroughly prior to transport to prevent slippage
  • Roll up the hide and wrap it in paper or cloth – avoid folding
  • Transport in a breathable container like burlap to allow air circulation
  • Keep hides cool but not directly on ice to avoid freezing damage

Skull Plates

  • For skull mounts, boil the head to remove flesh and cartilage
  • Allow cleaned skull to fully dry before transport
  • Wrap sturdily with padding to prevent bone breakage
  • Avoid exposing it to direct sunlight or high heat during transport

Caped Hides

  • Use borax to fully dry and preserve the cape after fleshing.
  • Fold the cape neatly, avoiding creases, with fur side out
  • Wrap the cape in paper and transport it in a breathable container
  • Keep cool and dry to prevent spoilage during transit

Your taxidermist can also provide guidance on properly packing trophies like antlers, hides, or mounts to avoid any damage during shipping.

Breezing Through Customs

For hunters traveling internationally with their big game harvest, navigating customs and border control is a whole other chore. But fear not; a little preparation goes a long way toward a smooth customs experience:

  • Know the restrictions – Research well in advance what you can and can’t bring into the destination country. Some prohibit certain meats or trophy items altogether.
  • Have proper paperwork – Bring copies of your hunting permits, export tags, veterinary certificates, and any other required documentation. Don’t rely on digital copies alone.
  • List items accurately – Declare all animal products on your customs form. Provide accurate details like species, quantity, and value. Omitting items can lead to penalties.
  • Pay any import fees – Some countries charge importation or processing fees for meat and trophies. Be prepared to pay these – they vary by destination.
  • Inspect thoroughly – Unpack coolers, boxes, or crates when asked to allow customs officers to inspect your items. Don’t be offended if they need to poke around.
  • Ask questions – If anything is unclear, ask customs officers politely for clarification. Don’t make assumptions.
  • Have patience – The customs process can be slow at times if they scrutinize your shipment. Remain calm and cooperative.

Hunters who do their diligence with customs paperwork and regulations can expect a shorter wait at the border. Just stay informed, organized, and polite.

person holding red plastic shovel

Following Food Safety Rules

Above all else, adhering to food safety guidelines will ensure your harvested venison arrives home in delicious, edible condition. Here are my best tips:

  • Butcher safely – Use sanitized knives, tables, and equipment when processing. Prevent bacterial contamination.
  • Chill quickly – Get meat cooled to <40°F within hours of harvesting using ice or refrigeration.
  • Package securely – Wrap meat portions in freezer paper or vacuum seal bags. Prevent freezer burn.
  • Freeze promptly – Freeze meat ASAP at 0°F or below. Use flash freezing for the best texture.
  • Limit thawing – If meat must be thawed during transit, keep it below 40°F in the fridge. Do not leave it at room temperature.
  • Check temperatures – Use a food thermometer to monitor meat temperature. Ensure it never enters the “danger zone” above 40°F.
  • Keep clean – Sanitize coolers, trays, and prep surfaces regularly. Avoid cross-contamination from other foods, dirt, etc.

Following the food safety rules only adds a little extra time but pays off in delicious, high-quality meat you can proudly serve to your family and friends for months to come.

Answering Your FAQs

I get lots of common questions from fellow hunters about transporting their harvests. Here are my answers to some frequent FAQs:

What are some mistakes to avoid when transporting meat and trophies?

Failing to keep meat chilled at a safe temperature below 40°F is probably the biggest mistake. Also, improperly packing trophies can lead to breakage during transit. Don’t forget the permits and paperwork required for crossing state lines or borders.

What should I do if I have problems during transport?

If possible, locate the nearest refrigeration option, like a meat locker, to get the meat cooled again. For damaged trophies, consult your taxidermist right away for the best remedy. Always inform the proper authorities if your shipment is significantly delayed in crossing a border.

How long can harvested meat remain unrefrigerated?

It depends on the outside temperature, but meat should be chilled within hours, not days. Refrigerate or pack in ice immediately after field dressing. If meat reaches temperatures above 40°F, bacteria can start growing quickly.

Can I transport meat or trophies on a plane?

Yes, most airlines and the TSA allow the transport of wild game if properly packaged, though with quantity and size restrictions. Check policies and book freight ahead of time. Use frozen gel packs to keep the meat cold.

What are the guidelines for packing meat and trophies?

Pack meat in sealed bags surrounded by ice in insulated containers. Make sure trophies like antlers are wrapped and stabilized to prevent movement and breakage. Clearly label all containers with their contents. Include permits and paperwork.

How should harvested meat be stored?

Chill meat to under 40°F as quickly as possible. Cut into manageable portions, wrap tightly in freezer paper, and freeze at 0°F. Store frozen portions in sealed bags or containers to prevent freezer burn.

man in boat duck hunting

The Takeaway

Well, there you have it—everything you could possibly need to know about successfully transporting your big game harvest. With the excitement of the hunt comes the responsibility to carefully handle, store, and transport the meat and trophies afterward.

Follow the tips I outlined here, like properly field dressing, securing permits, transporting in cooled conditions, and using safe food handling practices. Take your time and do it right; it will pay off with high-quality venison and pristine trophies to enjoy for years to come.

Most of all, embrace the whole experience that comes with harvesting an animal. From spotting your trophy bull to getting it safely home, every step offers an opportunity to learn. Happy hunting, and enjoy the fruits of your labor! Let me know if you have any other transport tips for your fellow hunters.